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My first small, imperfect peaches of the season. 

My word for the year is “alive.” The universe is hilarious.

I had a few thoughts about how this would go. There were a lot of lofty quotes that came to mind and many goals I made that I thought would contribute to a more vibrant existence. I had no idea how often I would have to fight to actively choose living over becoming stagnant or something else.

Today I read Joy the Baker’s post on turning 39, and so much of it resonated with me. I can list the accomplishments I’m proud of and many things I do well, but most days I can’t help but feel that I, too, have been left behind – that I missed a turn somewhere that would have taken me down the path toward those Big Life Goals™ that I just assumed would come along as soon I was ready for them. I also love her curiosity and her intention to set aside the small life story in exchange for embracing the things that sparkle – to “do them badly, then less badly, then maybe almost well.”

When our church decided to start meeting remotely, we didn’t hesitate or put it off a few weeks to figure it out. Our pastor told council, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” He didn’t mean, of course, that doing a bad job at online services should be the goal. Only that it needn’t wait until we had all the information to do it expertly.

As you can imagine, this is not my modus operandi. I am all for jumping off the cliff (metaphorically); I just want to be armed with a gigantic parachute of relevant knowledge before I do.

But I started the year with a commitment to come alive, so whether I know what I’m doing or not, here I am, doing it badly but consistently. This looks like a lot of different things:

To bake and eat the cake that I’ve been craving for a month rather than just think about making it.

To dance, enjoying the way my body – this body, the one I have right now – feels when it moves.

To choose to spend money in a way that actually makes a difference in my life and the lives of others rather than contributing to the greed of entities that exist to homogenize us.

To play Chopin. And also Joplin. And also brand new things that no one but me has ever heard.

To sing, even when there’s no one to carry the harmony.

To eat my veggies and stay hydrated.

To seek out the people who love me well and stop worrying about those who don’t.

To discover how much time I have when I cut out all the things that don’t really matter.

To discover exactly which things do matter so, so much.

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It’s the International Day of Happiness. This week has been w.e.i.r.d., to say the least. I’ve had a few panic attacks, and I’m still at work as we try to accommodate students who have nowhere else to go and figure out what in the world we’re going to do next (I would welcome faster decisions here…I’m just sayin’.). But there’s also been so many opportunities for joy. Just in my little corner of humanity, there is so much goodness. There are also so many fun things online. Here’s a list for times when you’re feeling more anxious than happy or just want something hopeful.

  1. Italians singing from their balconies.
  2. Lots of love happening on the ‘gram. Nikki Mayeaux is posting a daily creative prompt called Poem Passwords. The pictures on #seeninquarantine are spectacular. Between her early start for April Love and purrs from her sweet cat, Susannah Conway is soothing my soul. Julia Turshen is posting daily foodie prompts. I love this list from worn_ware of people offering yoga, meditations, etc.
  3. Tessera Arts Collective in Philadelphia closed the gallery for now, but they are still on for installing a street art campaign throughout the city this Sunday.
  4. Local businesses that can’t afford to shut down completely are making the best of it with delivery and curbside pickup. The Dentonite is keeping a running list. I love watching local business owners figure out how to take care of their employees by offering alternate earning opportunities and giving devoted patrons the ability to still tip their baristas/servers (*cough* support Golden Boy *cough*). Also…Golden Boy has key lime and coconut pie right now, which are in my top three favorite pies (blueberry is the third, if you’re wondering).
  5. Aid Network Denton and the city of Lake Dallas are keeping up a list of ways to get help or get involved if you can give help.
  6. Nature is delightful. The canals are clear and the swans are back in Venice. And penguins at the Shedd Aquarium enjoy a tour of the zoo.
  7. Since you can’t go in person, many field trip locations and entertainment venues are coming to you. You may also be able to watch the stage production of your favorite musical online. The Metropolitan Opera is streaming. Andrew Lloyd Webber tweeted himself playing “All I Ask of You”, and Lin Manuel Miranda responded with his performance of “Everything’s Alright”. Yale is offering their course on The Science of Well-Being for free (audit only).
  8. For artists whose income is impacted by all the cancellations, here’s a list of places that may be able to offer support.
  9. Books resources! I didn’t know how much I needed Betty White reading Harry the Dirty Dog in my life until this week. In fact, many children’s authors are reading their books online this week. And one that made me salivate – download from a selection of over 300,000 books for free from the New York Public Library through their reader app!!!
  10. Debbie Allen is teaching online dance classes! So is Chloe Arnold!
  11. Joy the Baker is just a delight. As usual.
  12. People are putting their Christmas lights back up to spread joy.
  13. All the Julia Child is streaming!!
  14. What am I doing this weekend? I’m so glad you asked! 24in48’s Social Distancing Readathon!

I’m sure there’s more. What are your favorite things people are doing right now?

 

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I have posted these sentiments before (some of them, a direct copy and paste). Unfortunately, here is one more occasion where it’s necessary to say it again. The tl;dr of the article – UNT’s assistant general counsel, as part of a presentation entitled “When Hate Comes to Campus,” used her platform as a representative of the university speaking on freedom of speech to drop the n-word in her statements.

*sigh*

First, this is an excellent example of how we talk (and talk and talk and omg the talking) about how we are such an inclusive campus, but then things like this happen. How many of our students, staff, and faculty are actually surprised by it? And will there be consequences for this behavior? And if not, will anyone find that surprising?

I hope that there are consequences (specifically, I hope she at least has the good sense to resign or, if she refuses to do so, the university fires her). I know she can self-censor, because she seemed to have no problem doing so in other parts of her presentation. Contrary to what Sewell states, it is indeed possible to talk about the First Amendment without saying horrible things and using hateful language.

Observe:

The First Amendment, truncated for our purposes (but you can read the whole thing here if you want) states, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.”

That is the entirety of what the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees you as a citizen regarding freedom of speech.  With very few exceptions, you can say what you want to say, and it is not against the law.

It protects you from being arrested for speaking your mind.  That would be a violation of your rights.

It protects you from being imprisoned for what you say.  That would be a violation of your rights.

It protects you from legal ramifications.  I suppose, of course, that a person or company could sue you, but, provided that what you said cannot be proven to be libel or slander (examples of those exceptions I mentioned), they would not win unless you have a stunningly incompetent lawyer, because for them to win such a case would be a violation of your rights.

Now let’s discuss some things from which it does not protect you.

It does not protect you from people disagreeing with you and saying so.  That’s just other people exercising their freedom of speech. When preachers show up on the streets lining our campus and people gather and respond in protest of the hateful things they say, that is freedom of speech in action.

It does not protect you from criticism.  Again, that’s just other people having the same rights as you do. See above.

It does not protect you from a professor dismissing you from class when you say something disrespectful or otherwise inappropriate, and the professor gets to decide what is appropriate and what is not, because professors are the ones who are responsible for what happens in their classrooms.

It should not be used to protect a professor or staff member – at any level, to be sure, but particularly those who hold positions of power and thus are inherently tasked with the ethical responsibility of setting the best example – who allows or fosters speech that dehumanizes students or coworkers, because they should be held responsible for what happens on their watch, particularly the things that come out of their own personal mouths.

The Constitution of the United States does not protect you from being reprimanded, suspended, or even fired when you say something that opposes the values of your employer, especially if you are dumb enough to say it at work, in a highly public forum (for example, from behind a podium during a university-sanctioned event), or while being recorded and/or reported.  That you have “never said it in public before” (I…just…omg…so when do you say it, Sewell? What are they teaching in law school, because clearly it’s not how to avoid shoving your foot completely down your throat, which I would think would be a pretty big part of any legal career) is not a defense (also…maybe don’t defend the terrible things you say. At all. Not even a little bit. Maybe just concede that you made a mistake. That’s step one.).

At any rate, having the organization denounce your behavior (at minimum) or fire you when you say things that are in direct opposition to the values the organization claims to hold is not a violation of your rights.  That is your employer being true to the values to which they have committed, regardless of what it might cost them. That is your employer exhibiting integrity, and their response to your behavior is called a consequence, not a violation of your rights.

That is what I want to see from UNT.

Edited to add the university’s official statement made this afternoon:

As many of you are likely aware, UNT System Assistant General Counsel Caitlin Sewell used a racial epithet on Nov. 7 during the “When Hate Comes to Campus” panel discussion on the UNT Campus in Denton. As leaders of the University of North Texas System and the University of North Texas, we are very aware of the impact Ms. Sewell’s comments have had on our community, and we approach the situation with regret and determination.

We strongly believe in a culture that embraces, and vehemently defends, inclusion. While Ms. Sewell was trying to make a point about First Amendment speech, the references used are never condoned in our community, which prides itself on our diversity and caring nature.  

This morning, Ms. Sewell submitted her resignation effective immediately.

In the coming days and weeks, it is our intention to engage in a dialogue with student and campus leaders regarding ways we can continue to foster a culture of diversity that is UNT. In the meantime, UNT counseling resources are available for all students, faculty, and staff.

Lesa Roe
UNT System Chancellor       

Neal Smatresk
UNT President

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Friday Five 4

Today is the 14th (14th!!!) birthday of one of the best kids on the planet and also National Coffee Day. Here is a selection of my favorite reading material from the week to peruse while you enjoy your morning (or afternoon, depending on where you are) cup.

  1. Good listeners are my favorite people of all. I am happy to share a country with both of these men.
  2. Signature shared an excerpt from Leila Janah’s book, Give Work: Reversing Poverty One Job at a Time, which is definitely going on my to-read list.
  3. I “Yes!”-ed and “Exactly!”-ed my way through Gemma Hartley’s piece on the toll of doing the bulk of the emotional labor in a relationship. When I think of wanting to be married, this is one of the top issues that gives me pause. I don’t want to be the team manager.
  4. Yay, free coffee!
  5. Or make your own – how to make cold brew. As I do not keep cheesecloth in stock at the house, I use my French press or Pampered Chef’s cold brew pitcher.

Happy Friday!

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Friday Five 4

We are in the midst of Mean Green Move-In (which technically starts tomorrow, but let’s be real – we’re in the midst). As students come to campus with concerns about safety and questions about how they can get involved, opportunities for listening and conversation abound.

Here are four things to read that can also help:

  1. Dr. King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail – his reasoning behind his activism.
  2. Reading list for those interested. Some of you might feel defensive about the title. For me, a good way to fight defensiveness is to look beyond it and press on – to read something by someone with whom I don’t have a lot in common with the intent to understand and try to empathize. Maybe that will work for you, too.
  3. Literary examples of the tu quoque fallacy (or why “but both sides!” is not a logical argument and often breaks down what could have been a productive conversation).
  4. If you are not following Osheta Moore from Shalom in the City, you should. Her latest newsletter gave advice on what to do if you are disappointed in your church’s response to Charlottesville events. It’s also good advice for those of us who flocked to our churches because we knew we could expect the topic to be raised. As someone who is frequently “that person” in various circles, I often find her words encouraging. She is also a reminder to me that firm conviction can also be kind.

Speaking of good advice, don’t stare directly into the sun, even during Monday’s eclipse. Enjoy it safely, please.

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In the Firefly universe, the crew of the Serenity was always trying to avoid Reavers, the ones that had an adverse reaction to their environment and lost their damn minds, giving in to hate and every vile impulse that comes with it.

It’s hard to avoid them in this world, though. They have jobs and pay taxes. They’re raising children. They hold rallies at our universities and on our town squares.

Oh…is that harsh? My bad. Full disclosure – if you need me to be gentle about this, you are not going to like what I have to say here.

I have tried. I have been reading the news and scrolling through social media and racking my brain to find a gentle way to say this, but I have come up empty.

Gentleness is just not an appropriate response.

I would find it curious if an outspoken white supremacist enjoyed reading my blog. Maybe we have the same taste in food? But if you are reading this and are a person who attends white supremacist rallies or sympathizes with those who do, then this post is for you. You wanted attention, and for the next few paragraphs, you have mine. Congratulations, I guess.

I know in my head that you are as fully human as I am, but I have a difficulty seeing any trace of humanity in how you think and act. You may have an endearing characteristic, but I cannot see it through the stinking fog of your white supremacist beliefs. This is not a difference of opinion. I will not agree to disagree. White supremacy is evil and detrimental to the world.

I believe in a God who can redeem anyone, but I also believe that God waits for people to turn their hearts in repentance before doing so. I harbor immense cynicism that you have the willingness or maybe even the capacity to repent.

I agree with Nelson Mandela that no one is born hating whole chunks of humanity. I also know from personal experience that viewpoints that are revealed to be false and bad behavioral habits can be unlearned. In order to have those experiences, however, I have to be open to them, and I don’t see that openness in you.

But just in case I am wrong (and I hope that I am), I have a little advice on how to begin.

[One of my limitations in this conversation is that I don’t know how to fix this without Jesus. So if atheist friends or friends of other faiths want to give advice on where to start, please feel welcome to do so in the comments.]

Since it seems that most outspoken white supremacists, particularly in the southern regions of my country, profess the Christian faith, let’s start there.

That you are wrong about this is not up for discussion. You are wrong. Period. Get on your face before the God you serve and repent. Ask God to help you change. Beg God to help you change. Do not let go until God answers you. Do this every day until you no longer hate the people you hate today.

Next, I know you are really good at being angry. Anger is not wrong, but it needs to be pointed in the right direction. Get angry at white supremacy. Get angry at how it invaded your mind and heart and warped your soul. At some point, were you forced to choose between outwardly embracing white supremacy and being disowned by your family? Doesn’t that make you furious? Lean into that fury. Turn your hate toward this mindset that poisoned your life and every relationship you have. When change seems hopeless – and there will come a time when it does – that anger may be the only fuel that keeps any hope of redemption alive.

I and many others have a lot of ideas on where to go from there, but frankly, I would be surprised if you ever bother to get to this point.

So that’s what I have to say to you. Change. Start to do so immediately. You want to be a person who deserves to be heard? Become a person who says and does worthwhile things.

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Friday Five 4

My mother is one of my favorite people. She is tough and moody and full of both wonder and practicality. She is the reason I have such a soft place in my heart for Emily Gilmore, because some of Emily’s lines could have come straight from my mother’s mouth. Today, I am highlighting items from the Internet that reminded me of her when I read them.

  1. As I’ve mentioned before, I love Simone Biles. She does not abide foolishness, and that includes the foolishness of being told what to do with her face. When asked why she wasn’t smiling during the judges’ positive feedback, she replied, “Smiling doesn’t win you gold medals.” I love her so hard.
  2. Mom Lesson #453: It’s okay to be mad; it is not okay to act like a banshee and pitch a fit on the floor when innocent people are just trying to get their grocery shopping done without incident. Kristen Bell and my mom would get along.
  3. While I’m not sure my mom would be comfortable with the idea of my attending Pride at all, she would insist that if I must that I at least Do. It. Right. If you’re going to try to be an ally, do the work of listening to what that means.
  4. I enjoyed and related a lot to this article on Gen X getting caught in the middle of Boomers and Millennials. My mother would respond with a combination of “Suck it up” and “Well, make them pay attention.” Yes, mother. I’m not sure why they call their generation the Silent Generation. That does not describe either of my parents accurately at all.
  5. I don’t know why this reminded me of Mom. I just can’t quite put my finger on it. This certainly doesn’t resemble her at all. Swear like a Mother.

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Friday Five3

I’m having fun/trouble narrowing down poets this month. Today, I bring you tiny snippets of five of my favorites that I hope you will read.

  1. Audre Lorde – start with The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde
    From “Sisters in Arms” –
    “and wherever I touch you

    I lick cold from my fingers
    taste rage
    like salt from the lips of a woman
    who has killed too often to forget
    and carries each death in her eyes”
  2. Martin Estrada – Imagine the Angels of Bread
    From the poem of the same title –
    “this is the year that the food stamps
    of adolescent mothers
    are auctioned like gold doubloons,
    and no coin is given to buy machetes
    for the next bouquet of severed heads
    in coffee plantation country.”
  3. Yehuda Amichai – The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai
    From “In the Middle of this Century” –
    “The earth drinks men and their loves
    Like wine,
    To forget.
    It can’t.
    And like the contours of the Judean hills,
    We shall never find peace.”
  4. Aja Monet – My Mother was a Freedom Fighter
    From the poem of the same title (read at this year’s Women’s March) – 
    “In a midnight voice, arms extended,
    she reads blues that lay the soul to dust.”
  5. Adrienne Rich – Collected Early Poems
    From “Two Songs” –
    “I’d call it love if love
    didn’t take so many years
    but lust too is a jewel
    a sweet flower and what
    pure happiness to know
    all our high-toned questions
    breed in a lively animal.”

Who are some of your favorite poets?

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Friday Five2

Title reference – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Well, I did it. I turned 42, which really does feel like an answer to something. Getting through this year has felt like an accomplishment. I wonder if this is how every year from now on will be – more aches, less patience with the world and its ridiculous ways, more unlearning and relearning. It’s not so bad, I guess.

Last year at this time, I was freaking out over my blood pressure being high for the first time ever. This year, I am happy to report that it is back to normal (but my heart rate still runs high…because anxiety…working on it) and that my food and activity choices have had a lot to do with that. I have a number of pounds lost, which will make my doctor happy, but I’m happier about other things.

Today’s list is made of stories with which my 42-year-old self identifies.

  1. Addie Zierman’s Of Lent and Emptiness – On fasting/not fasting and Whole30, which I still refuse to try but if I were to try it, posts like this would be what would change my mind. Also, I weirdly miss fasting for Lent.
  2. Shawn Smucker’s On Seeing a Neighbor Hit Their Child, What Maile Did Right, and What I Would Do Differently – I’m mentioned Green Dot training fleetingly, but it is not fleeting in my mind. Scenarios like this go through my head all the time with questions of what would I do, whom would I call, how would I respond.
  3. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls – Our church is starting the second annual collection of books for our Book Bag Project. We give three or four books to graduates of a local preschool to encourage their love of reading. More and more, I am convinced that writers (and artists and musicians and etc.) have incredible power to unlock story and innovation and progress, and I want to be a part of that.
  4. Cat principles. This is basically a to-do list. Also…I remain resolute in my coffee consumption (just…shhh…).
  5. Sometimes, Ray Palmer is my spirit animal. Also, I love Legends of Tomorrow. And Flash. And even Arrow. And especially Supergirl (i.e., Cat Grant)And will always rewatch Smallville and will always, ALWAYS be angry at Season 4. Fandom squee for life.

Hello, 42. Happy to meet you.

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Friday Five2

This month has been a gift so far. I have had sufficient free time (which is no small thing for an introvert), I’m out of my writing slump and back into a good rhythm, and I have been taking advantage of all my birthday deals and coupons.

Also, it’s like the Internet knows it’s my birthmonth. Here are my five favorite things on the Internet this week:

1. A story about Denton PD’s unique relationship with the city’s homeless

2. Wildfires have destroyed a large portion of the Panhandle, and ranchers across the state are driving hay bales to feed livestock, so much so that there has been a temporary hold on doing so. And while I am not generally a fan of Abbott’s, I appreciate that he was quick to cut through red tape to make this process go smoothly. Friends have set up GoFundMe pages, and officers have stopped trucks carrying hay that direction to help pay for the gas needed to get there (Texas is big, y’all.).

3. Great article in Teen Vogue about Green Dot active bystander training and its effectiveness in reducing incidents of interpersonal violence.

4. I spend a lot of time thinking about first lines in my own books and stories. I might start a blog series with titles taken from some of my favorite first lines.

5. And finally, Beauty and the Beast comes out this week, and I’m excited, but I’m not sure it’s possible for me to enjoy it more than I enjoyed the James Corden’s crosswalk version. This is my favorite thing on the intrawebs this week.

What has made you happy this week?

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